Difference Between Natural Curls and a Perm

Long hair with natural curls
Photo: Jason Tench/Shutterstock
Q: Besides the growing-out stage, what really is the visible difference between natural curls and a perm? I thought that naturally curly hair would have different size curls all over the head and a perm would be the same size all throughout. A girl that I work with claims to have naturally curly hair but it looks like a perm to me. I'm just curious.
A: There is usually some variance in the curls of a person with naturally curly hair, but that’s not a definitive trait, by any means. Many good stylists will often vary the size of the perming tools used to give the hair a more randomly curly look, which is generally perceived as looking more natural. The natural look is the “ideal” in most areas of cosmetology whether you’re talking about hair texture services, make-up application, or hair color.
However, it is entirely possible for an individual to have the majority of his or her hair follicles similarly shaped so as to grow uniformly shaped curls. Or in the case of men and women of Asian descent, perfectly straight hair. It’s no more unusual than finding someone with natural highlighting in their hair color. It’s all determined by the spin of the genetic wheel.
Hair with curls that look natural
Photo: Jason Tench/Shutterstock
There are texture changes in the hair after perming. The perming process often leaves the cuticle layer raised somewhat, and the hair is subsequently drier than before. This isn’t always noticeable if the individual properly cares for her hair, conditioning it thoroughly, using smoothing serums, etc.
However, if someone has curly hair that seems frizzed and dry, you might safely assume that their hair has been permed. There are also marks and bends on the hair that come from an improperly wrapped perm. But, again, these are only visible if the perm was poorly wrapped, and wouldn’t be found in the case of a well-executed perm.
However, since you’ve asked and been told that the look is natural, consider that she’s telling the truth. There are few people today who cling to the ideals of vanity from earlier periods in society. If she’d had a perm, she would probably admit to it, if only because whoever performed the perm obviously did a great job.
See also:
Pers and perming
Building a better curl
Curly hair and hairstyles